[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, August 7, 1998]
Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.
After years of mishandling by Hollywood, crime novelist Elmore Leonard has been on a roll. Get Shorty, Barry Sonnenfeld’s larky look behind the scenes of Tinseltown itself, reaffirmed the second coming of John Travolta and also, by the novelist’s own testimony, made Leonard aware that his books are funny. (He writes them straight, which is how his characters live them.) Quentin Tarantino turned Rum Punch into JackieBrown and enhanced both Tarantino and Leonard in the process. Now comes Out of Sight—for sheer snap, verve, and professionalism, arguably the best of the bunch.
The best thing about Life of Crime is the cast, a lively combination of character types, scene-stealers, and one slumming superstar. And yet the movie feels like a community-theater walk-through. Despite the tentpole presence of Jennifer Aniston and its roots as an Elmore Leonard adaptation (it shares characters with Leonard’s Rum Punch, which Quentin Tarantino shot as Jackie Brown), Life of Crime is dialed-down and low-rent, lacking the bravado that might boost it a notch or two.
Aniston plays Mickey, weary trophy wife to Detroit bigwig Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins plays the role with greasy bonhomie and a Donald Trump haircut).
[Expanded from a feature originally published in 1997 in Seattle Weekly]
“Amateurs borrow, professionals steal,” goes the maxim. Quentin Tarantino steals like a pro. Where directors of the previous generation peppered their films with classic cinematic quotes, Tarantino plunders the films of his formative years for ideas – mostly B-movies and exploitation films about cars and capers and criminals – and riffs on them with a mix of reverence and sly playfulness.
Tarantino’s films aren’t so much stories as strings of anecdotes: movie moments, urban myths, conversations strewn with pop culture references. His challenge with Jackie Brown is how make someone else’s story—Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch, to be specific—his own. His solution: set it in his own reference riddled world. From the film’s opening shot—a quote from The Graduate overlaid with early seventies movie lettering and set to a Motown tune—we know we’re in Tarantino territory.
Pam Grier’s entrance in her retro stewardess outfit introduces the kick-ass star of Foxy Brown and Friday Foster gracefully aging into the modern world. Robert Forster, the almost star of the late 60s turned exploitation film stalwart (see Alligator and Vigilante), brings the understated authority that marked his genre pictures to the lived-in ease age brings. That’s the genius of Tarantino’s casting. Jackie Brown is not some stand-in for Foxy Brown but a projection of where she might be 25 years later. Grier’s persona is intertwined with the role, a middle aged woman with her back to wall who turns her situation around: from victim to player. With the weight of her career as an action star, Grier makes Jackie her own and dominates the screen with her energy and charisma.